A History of Jim Crow In Oklahoma City


This article traces the history of Jim Crow laws in Oklahoma City, particularly, and Oklahoma, generally, through six periods of time:
  1. The General Background
  2. Adoption of the Oklahoma Constitution
  3. The Oklahoma Legislature's Adoption of Jim Crow Laws
  4. Oklahoma City's First Jim Crow Ordinances
  5. Oklahoma City's Second Jim Crow Ordinances
  6. The Aftermath of Oklahoma City's Jim Crow Ordinances
Most of the history presented here unfolds in Daily Oklahoman articles from 1904 through 1938. In them not only are facts discovered but the attitudes of the paper and people are as well.
As you read through this, it will be helpful to keep in mind that three levels of governmental jurisdiction are involved when considering Jim Crow laws: national, state, and city. At the national level, early focus largely if not totally centered upon interstate transportation trains and their associated rest and waiting areas, and this category received most of the earliest attention in the press and at the state's Constitutional Convention. At the state level, focus included statewide transportation and also statutes requiring separation of blacks and whites in public schools as well as miscegenation laws which forbad interracial marriage and the like. At the city level, the focus was who could live where, who could operate a business where, public parks, churches, libraries and other public accomodations and also included movies and entertainment.
1. THE GENERAL BACKGROUND.

This group is general and brief but it sets the issues and tone of things to come. The prevailing attitude of whites around statehood was that the black race was mentally inferior to the whites. The president of the 1906-07 Constitutional Convention, Alfalfa Bill Murray, was reported to have exclaimed during the convention that blacks would always remain bootblacks, barbers, and farmers. Even more graphic were the words of the Daily Oklahoman's Editor, Roy E. Stafford, in 1907, as he lobbied for the adoption of Jim Crow laws in the 1st Oklahoma legislative session after statehood. The full text of his article will be shown below, but, for now, here's a preview:
It was never intended by the Almighty that the races should be placed upon social equality and the foolish ideas that are being placed in the black man's head to the contrary, by designing politicians, bode no good to either race. For the negro is an infant, figuratively, in intellect. His understand of things is easily influenced. He is but so much putty in the hands of greater intelligence and he believes what he is told to believe. His mind is as much a slave to dictations of his superiors as his body was a slave to masters who owned it before the war.
In these respects, then, Oklahoma was little different than our sister states to the south and east. It's as though whites somehow thought they might get infected with dumbness were they to be unduly exposed to members of the black race. In any event, the expressions above present the social backdrop for Jim Crow laws.

The federal government's Organic Act of 1890 established boundaries and territorial status for both Oklahoma and Indian Territories. But whether these territories might or would become a single state with both included, two states, or only one, O.T. to become Oklahoma, leaving I.T. in territorial status, was then unknown. In O.T., C.G. Jones of Oklahoma City headed a movement and lobbied in Congress for a single state. In I.T., many in the Five Civilized Tribes initially preferred not to be a state at all.
The respective Five Civilized Tribes' attitudes and approaches toward the Freedmen, they being former black slaves owned by tribal members, varied considerably. Some tribes accepted racial intermarriage and integrated schools, some did not. According to the OHS Freedmen article, "Efforts to secure the rights of the freedmen represented one aspect of the struggle that ultimately opened Indian lands to non-Indian settlement." The article says that by 1907, 23,415 freedmen were eligible for land allotments.

Perhaps seeing the handwriting on the wall, a movement took hold for I.T. to be a single state. Leaders of the Five Tribes convenened the Sequoyah Convention in August 1905 to write a constitution; it did; it was submitted to Congress but was rejected. For more about this, see this article and this article in the OHS Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Not until the federal government's Enabling Act in 1906 was it clear that both territories would be joined to form a single state.

The implied assumption in the 1904 article shown here was that I.T. would become a single state and would become "among the first" in both territories to adopt Jim Crow laws. The article says:
When Indian Territory gets statehood doubtless it will at the time of its legislative convention pass a Jim Crow law, and that is going to cause a big howl from the minority population of the Territory. The negroes here, especially the freedmen, have by virtue of being land holders, brought themselves to believe they are entitled to all the priveleges of the white man.
September 11, 1904
Meanwhile, at the federal level, congressional focus was on interstate commerce and transportation, i.e., trains and thier associated waiting and rest areas. This May 30, 1906, Daily Oklahoman article illustrates that Congress itself was having difficulty about whether to include such Jim Crow laws in federal statutes which regulated interstate transportation. The article notes:
* * * considerable time was devoted to a discussion of the so-called "Jim Crow" car provision. This amendment has given the Republican conferees some concern because of the opposition made by northern negroes against the alleged principle involved in the sparataion of the races.
While Congress may have been indecisive and ambivalent about Jim Crow laws, the Republican President, Theodore Roosevelt, was not. After Congress and the President signed the Enabling Act and it became law, his approval, not Congress's, of the proposed consitution was required for Oklahoma's admission to statehood. With this backdrop, the scene was set for the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention.
2. ADOPTION OF THE OKLAHOMA CONSTITUTION.


This section traces events leading up to and occurring during Oklahoma's Constitutional Convention and the proposed constitution subsequent adoption by vote of the people before it was submitted to the United States government for ratification and approval. The federal government required that Oklahoma adopt a constitution in conformity with the federal government's Enabling Act which contained the essential and minimal requirements as to the Constitution's content. One proivision was,
"The constitution shall be republican in form, and make no distinction in civil or political rights on account of race or color."
Those words, however, do not lend themselves to an unambiguous meaning since the enabling act expressly permitted the establishment of separate schools and to some that would appear to be a contradiction in terms.

So, the hubub about including or excluding Jim Crow provisions in the constitution all had to do with rail transportation and associated waiting areas. Not schools those kinds of Jim Crow laws were acceptable to the federal government.

A July 15, 1906, Oklahoman article doesn't say a great deal about Jim Crow except to note that Negroes were gearing up to fight against including such provisions in the state's constitution. The article does contain a comprehensive list of the main issues to be considered during the convention and is worth a read for general interest but I've not included it below. Click here to read the July 15, 1906, article.

The Daily Oklahoman was not only a reporter of events but also was a force in shaping them. In these times, it was the city's "Democrat" paper and was aligned with labor and was often antagonistic to Republicans, the capitalists.

Although not particularly mentioned in this series of articles, the Socialist Party was also a significant player and it, too, had its own agenda for the constitution. Well-known Oklahoma City Socialist Oscar Ameringer was a mayoral candidate in 1911. He didn't fare that badly in a field of three: Democrat Whit. M Grant, 3,488; Republican J. F. Warren, 2,946; Ameringer 1,876, according to unofficial returns reported in the May 10 Daily Oklahoman. The report said, "In many precincts in the south part of the city and in Capitol Hill, the socialists secured more votes than either of the other two tickets." Ameringer was apparently one of the few and more vocal white voices against 1910 legislation which made it more difficult for black voters to vote the Voter Registration Act of 1910 which act was held unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Guinn v. United States.

Convention members were largely southern in their orientation. According to Arrel Morgan Gibson's Oklahoma, A History of Five Centuries (University of Oklahma Press 1981), "Of the 112 delegates, seventy-five were natives of the South." Party membership was 99 Democrats, 12 Republicans, and 1 Independent.

In this time, the Civil War was not in the distant past. Think about it. The Civil War ended in 1865, about 41-42 years earlier. Using today's relative calendar (this article is written in 2009) and if the Civil War ended 42 years earlier, the Civil War would have ended in 1967 while I was still in law school, not so far-away distant at least in my own sense of time. Blacks were generally loyal in their voting to "the party of Lincoln" which had freed them from slavery. The Oklahoman often chided Republicans for their hypocracy concerning Jim Crow laws when Republicans said one thing but did another.

In a report originating in Tulsa, this July 29, 1906, Daily Oklahoman article, the paper said:
The Negro and Indian to Figure as Political Issues

"Jim crow cars" and slavery will be the issues of the first campaign in the new state of Oklahoma in that portion known now as the five civilized nations. Separate cars for the negroes is the scarecrow held up to the colored population of the new state, and a reminder of the slave days, and what was done to the Indians when the slaves were freed are the levers that the two parties expect to handle to the very uncertain elements in the new state.

At the close of the war of 1861, the Indians held many slaves more negroes than there were Indian owners. This was true of all of the civilized tribes, and when the Indians were given the land now known as Indian Territory, they were forced to divide the lands and property with the former slaves, creating a class known as freedmen. This is the foundation of the democratic campaign committee in the first battle. It has been determined to make a house to house canvass of every district and make a direct appeal for votes for the democratic party and ticket on the grounds that it was the republican party that compelled the Indians to give up their property to the former slaves. This is being talked already, and is having its effect.

The negroes are being thoroughly aroused and alarmed over the prospects of a strictly sourthern state of Oklahoma. They are being warned not only by the white men that "jim crow cars" and disfranchisement are possibilities, but the negro leaders are appealing to their brothers to stick to the republicans, as therein lies their safety. * * * It is shown by the census of 1900 that Indian Territory had 36,853 negroes, with 9,846 of voting age. The census gave 52,500 Indians, with about 15,000 of voting age, making about 25,000 votes out of a total vote of 97,361, or about one-fourth of the whole, which is a demonstration of the importance of securing this uncertain vote. On the Oklahoma side, the negroes and Indians do not play such an important part. * * *
In another article springing from Indian Territory, this one from McAlister on August 30, 1906, the Daily Oklahoman, in reporting on a rebublican party meeting there in which the party's territorial committee selected its finance committee chair, closed its article with this statement:
What was done in executive session will never be known, but it was rumored that one of the advisors came near starting a riot by declaring that the republican party of the new state might just as well take the bull by the horns on the negro question and advocate a Jim Crow law, with separate schools, stations and waiting rooms for the colored population.
For its part, the Daily Oklahoman began a series of editorials at least by October 6, 1906, through which its position became increasingly clear. The October 6, 1906, editorial was entitled, "THE NEGRO IN POLITICS" and it appears to have been an appeal to black voters to consider whether it was being served well by being blindly faithful to the republican party. Part of the editorial read:
The amazing spectacle of a number of negro delegates walking out of a republican convention was presented at Ardmore the other day upon the adoption of a plank demanding the "Jim Crow" laws in the new state. We say "amazing" advisedly, because we believe the annals of time will be searched in vain to disclose its historical parallel.

And yet who doubts that every one of those bolters will not be found in line on election day, working and voting for the nominees of the convention out of which they walked?

No one, of course, who is familiar in any degree with the peculiar political philosophy of the negro. This philosophy, it may be remarked in passing, is one of the inexplicable features of that phenomenon known as practical politics. It holds its adherent fast and hard to a single political party and makes him as much of a chattel today, forty years following his liberation, as he was in the days of human slavery. So long as this condition endures, he cannot, in the very nature of things, obtain the consideration due him. The party with which he affiliates understands that he cannot be driven from it with club and lash; and the opposition, knowing his frailties and obstinacy, has no use for him in conformity with the first law of nature. The negro, therefore, though considerable of a political force in point of numbers, is in reality a mere appendate to a partisan kite.

And the negro is doomed to this condition so long as he continues to assert no political independence. He cannot expect no consideration politically at the hands of the democratic party because of his uniform opposition and will receive none at the hands of his own party while he slavishly adheres to it, however often he may be bumped and jostled. * * *
The editorial did now say how the black race would be better served via the democratic party. That would come later. Neither did it overtly speak to them even if it did so by implication. That, too, would come later.

The Houston Post, also a democratic newspaper, had been following the discussion in Oklahoma concerning the inclusion of Jim Crow prosions in Oklahoma's constitution, and it advised that Oklahoma should omit to avoid the constitution's rejection by the president and leave the matter to the legislature after statehood admission had been achieved. The Daily Oklahoman replied with its own editorial on January 8, 1907, which, in part, read as follows:
Under ordinary circumstances, the Post's suggestion would be both timely and sensible; but under the circumstances which exist, it is both impolite and inadvisable.

The Post is doubtless unaware that practically every democrat in the convention was elected upon a platform pledging him to the incorporation of provision in the consititution for the separation of the races in traveling. That being true, the delegates are morally bound to live up to their pledges and give us the "Jim Cr[o]w" provision.

This is no time for the delegates to discover that "Jim Crow" laws can be better handled by the legislature than in the convention. That time has gone entirely by. * * *
* * *
The charge that the president will refuse to issue his proclamation admitting us into the sisterhood on account of anything contained in our constitution not incompatible with a republican form of government is not well founded. It presupposes too many things. The president's duties in this matter are wholly ministerial. * * * If he finds that we have adopted a republican form of government his power in the premises is exhausted.

It will surely not be contended that the incorporation of a "Jim Crow" provision in the constitution is at variance with a republican form of government. * * *
The editorial went on to advise that, if it be mistaken, a simple solution would be to include an alternative provision which provided that, if the president found the Jim Crow law to be in conflict with the Enabling Act that the president, at his option, could elect to approve the constitution, exclusing that provision.

The discussion in the Daily Oklahoman about including Jim Crow provisions in the constitution went on and on ad nasaeum, far more than is shown here. The convention was clearly troubled that the consitution stood great risk of being rejected by the president if the Jim Crow rail provision be included. A January 10, 1907, article reported that a compromise had been reached:
Giving credence to the report, emanating from Washington, it is alleged, that President Roosevelt will reject the consitution of the new state of Oklahoma in the event those statutes contain the "Jim Crow" separate coach provision, prominent democratic leaders in caucus here [Guthrie] decided on a compromise, which purposes [proposes?] to relieve the situation of its alleged embarrassing features.

The compromise as announced is clothed with these words:

"That nothing in this constitution contained shall be construed to prevent the establishment and maintenance of separate schools for white and colored children, or such other provision of law with reference to the separation of the races as shall not be in violation of the constitution of the United States."
The Daily Oklahoman's differing opinion was restated in a February 12, 1907, article in which the famous (or infamous) criminal defense lawyer Moman Pruiett railed against a less-than-straightforward inclusion of the Jim Crow provision, in the strongest of terms. Part of the article, under the headline "The Convention Not A Crawfish," quotes the lawyer as saying:
"Nine-tenths of the delegates to the constitutional convention were elected on platforms which pledged them to use their efforts to separate the races in schools, railway carriages and elsewhere. That is the Jim Crow law. Had these very delegates not made these pledges many of them would not have been elected. Pretending to be fearful that with the provision inserted the president would refuse to sign the constitution they are trying to shirk their responsibility by asking their constituencies to relieve them of the pledges they made at the time of their nominations. What cowards! To describe such weaklings would sicken imagination and exhaust invective. * * * Let the men who have it to do keep their pledges; let them not be 'hoodooed' by the republicans who are trying to put the democratic party in a hole. Let them be honest with the people and themselves. Let them be men of their word, even if being so means defeat."
Hand-wringing over what Roosevelt would or might do persisted. A February 21, 1907, Daily Oklahoman article, "'Jim Crow' Problem Considered By Delegates In Late Night Session And Convention Takes It Up Today," said that consideration was being given to adopting the constitution with Jim Crow provisions and promptly submit the document to the United States Attorney General for an opinion.
This solution of the "[J]im Crow" and other questions whose legality is doubted is said to have been suggested to a member of the convention by an attache of the attorney general's office and is believed to be semi-official.
That didn't happen. Instead, a February 22, 1907, article reported that the convention had voted, after "debate that consumed the entire day," 64-27, to submit the matter to a committee of nine Oklahoma lawyers for legal advice. The lengthy article concluded with this interesting statement:
Neil Gardner of Stigler, who has been absent from the convention for three weeks created somewhat of a surprise by announcing that when making his campaign he had promised his people that he would "work and vote for the 'Jim Crow' clause till h froze over and the little devils were skating across on the ice," but that in the three weeks he had been home in his district he had found that the majority of his constituents were fearful that the writing of it in the consistution would seriously endanger statehood. Because of this change of statement among his people he declared that he was now prepared to case his vote against the "Jim Crow" clause.
In a second February 22 Daily Oklahoman article, republican Governor Frank Frantz was reported to have "declared positively that President Roosevelt will reject the constitution if it contains a "Jim Crow" clause.
He quoted the delegates in the convention, saying that they were "dd if they do and dd if they don't;" that if they incorporate the clause the president will withhold his proclamation and if they leave it out the people of Oklahoma will reject the constitution.

"He told the truth," said [territorial] Governor Frantz * * *
Finally, a Feburary 28 article reported that the legal committee had returned its pessimistic findings were the transportation Jim Crow provisions to be included and that, such advice being received, the convention voted to table the provision by a 46-31 vote which effectively killed that particular Jim Crow provision being included in the constitution. The headline read, "JIM CROW LAW IS KILLED CONVENTION "PLAYS SAFE" FOR FEAR OF "BIG STICK." Parts of the article read:
Hill of Catoosa provoked laughter after the reading of the special committee's report had ben concluded by offering a motion to refer the matter to Booker T. Washington. * * * After covering voluminously the premises of the case, the report of the special committee makes the following find[ings] and recomendations:

That the president is vested by law with the power to determine whether or not the proposed constitution measures up to the standard required by the enabling act.

That separate schools are allowed by express grant.

That after the state's admission into the union, upon an equal footing with the original states, the only inhibition of the enabling act as to future legislation in regard to race or color, is that it shall never enact any law restricting or abridging the right of suffrage on account of race, color or previous conditions of servitude.

The committee is of the opinion, that it is clearly within the police power of a sovereign state to enact and enforce provisions relating to equal but separate coaches and waiting rooms, and that such requirements are not in contravention of any rights guaranteed by the constitution of the United States, and is of the further opinion that this convention has power to submit each constitutional provisions, not in conflict with the federal laws, which when ratified by the people and the state shall have been admitted, would be binding laws of the state.

The question that turns upon the clause of the enabling act which requires that "the constituion shall be republican in form, and make no distinction in civil or political rights on account of race or color.'

This inhibition is as to the constitution itself, and not as to the future legislation which the state may see fit to enact. * * * The committee further reports that it regards the subject matter proposed is just as appropriate for legislative as for constitutional enactment, and that the states of the American union which have dealt with the matter have done so only by statutory provision.
But, not all Jim Crow laws were excluded as noted above. Other provisions mandated separate but equal schools and, probably toward that end, the state's official definition of "white" and "colored" races was made. The latter provision partuclarly concerned President Roosevelt according to The Oklahoma State Constitution by Danny Mark Adkinson and Lisa McNair Palmer (Greenwood Publishing Group 2001). The provision was Article 23, Section 11, which read, in part (and quoting from the Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision in the 1912 case of Cole v. District Board of School Dist.)
* * * "all persons of African descent" are negroes, while all other persons are whites, thus, for legal purposes, limiting our population to two races, and including the native American or Indian population and all other races, except the negroes, as white persons.

* * * Our law provides separate schools for the negro race (Comp. Laws 1909, sec. 8193), and prohibits their admission to white schools, and, where one has such a mixture of blood as to make it uncertain what race he should be classified with, the question to him is of the most intimate and vital importance, and our rules of evidence should be liberally applied to ascertain the true fact.
The issue presented in that case was whether particular children were white or "colored" for purposes of enrollment in a white McIntosh County school. The court determined that it was error to exclude opinion testimony that the students had no African blood and that they had attended white schools in Kentucky and the adverse jury verdict was reversed and remanded for a new trial. Article 23, Section 11, was repealed by referendum vote on November 7, 1978.

Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself. Gearing up for a statewide vote on the proposed constitution, the republicans gave the Daily Oklahoman a field day and yet another opportunity to expose the hypocracy of the republican party. In an August 25, 1907, article, the republican state central committee was exposed as having a Jim Crow department for its own black members. That fact prompeted M. Groom and J.D. Randolph, "two of the best known and most influential negroes of Oklahoma City," to write an open letter to replublican chairman C.E. Hunter, some of which is set out below. Read the article for the full story, but, suffice it here to say that four men had been chosen by blacks to serve on the state executive committee as a quid pro quo for the withdrawal of a black corporation commissioner candidate. But, after the candidate's withdrawal, and during the party convention when a motion was made to appoint the four men, the motion was ruled out of order by the convention chairman. Instead, the men were invited to attend a meeting of the state committee in Oklahoma City.
Three of the four responded and waited patiently outside the doors of the committee room all day for permission to enter and admission to fellowship. This recognition never came, but after the committee meeting was adjourned, the negroes were advised that they would be allowed to choose an auxillary committee of ten members to act in an advisory capacity to the state committee on matters touching the vote of the negro brethren.

It is this negro auxillary committee which Groom and Randolph term the Jim Crow section of the committee, and against which classification they protest vigorously. The letter is addressed to C.E. Hunter, chairman of the republican state committee and says:
* * *
"Dear Sir:

Will you kindly explain why it became necessary to establish a Jim Crow department for the negro members of the Republican State committee? Is the presence of these men of color obnoxious to the dignity of your honorable body? Would you be condemned to allow our best negroes to sit in council with you when it means millions to (white republicans) and nothing to us except a chance to vote for you?

Do you think you are acting under the mandates of the enabling act which says, 'That you shall make no distinction in the civil and political rights of persons on account of race, color or previous conditions of servitude.'
* * *
Will you openly and truthfully give the exact attitude of the party at this time toward the negro?

Will you please state your position in regard to the Jim Crow, and other acts embodied in the proposed constitution, whch concerns negroes only? * * * And, in fact, won't you plead guilty to non-support, neglect of duty and absolute desertion of national republican principles."
The proposed constitution was adopted by statewide vote, was signed by the President, and Oklahoma became the 48th state to be admitted to the union on November 16, 1907. But, without the Jim Crow transportation provisions.
3. THE LEGISLATURE'S ADOPTION OF JIM CROW LAWS.
Even before formal admission as a state, the Daily Oklahoman continued its quest that Jim Crow laws be adopted, this time through legislation. Before developing that theme, however, and somewhat as an aside, while all of this was going on Oklahoma City experienced its first "sit-in" well, call it a "park-in," at Wheeler Park which was unofficially reserved for white people it's a fun story so I'll include the article completely. The Sepbember 7, 1907, article speaks for itself:
Gritty they were, just eating their crisp fried chicken legs from one hand and watermelon from the other, right there in Wheeler Park where only the white folks were supposed to go. Perhaps they weren't fearful about the not-too-veiled threat about Jim Crow laws since everyone knew they were coming no matter what.

Earlier, during the constitutional period, the Daily Oklahoman was just getting started. In this round of activity, the paper would no longer be reserved about telling whites and blacks how blacks would be better served by the democrat party and it did so in explicit and absolutely certain terms. Have a good look at the front page of the Sepember 13, 1907, Daily Oklahoman, below.
Below the cartoon, then editor Roy E. Stafford gives black citizens what they had doubtless been waiting for information about how they would be better off at the hands of the democrat party. The full text of that advice is presented below. And, note, E.K. Gaylord was then the paper's business manager, not the editor, and it would be wrong to attribute this editorial to him.

Leaving out the horrible and appealing-to-fear graphic and its title, "Have YOU a daughter, Mr. Voter?," the graphic at the right shows the full text under the cartoon.

"Permit him to better his moral and his financial condition, but let him realize always that he must not hope for social equality with the white man" ...

. . . said the Daily Oklahoman's editor. But Mr. Stafford's most memorable lines were reserved for the article's completion on page 2, below.

"It was never intended by the Almighty that the races should be placed upon social equality."

"For the negro is an infant, figuratively, in intellect."

"Tell him that when God ordained that his skin should be black it as intended as a sign to him that he and his kind should remain apart from the white man insofar as social position is concerned."

"In the larger cities, manual training schools are being established for the benefit of the negroes. There the pupils are taught how to till the soil; how to cook; how to mend; how to make beds and, in short, how to do all the things for which they are well fitted."

"The result is that better citizens are made of the negroes and all because the negroes are taught what their station in life is. They are given to understand that they are not on a social plane as high as that occupied by the white man."

"* * * it should not be denied him, but keep before him the fact thre are limits beyond which he must not go."

"Let us avoid a return to the reign of the Klu Klux Klan."

"Give the negro a chance, by teaching him that he is a negro. He is not as intelligent as a white man. [*] He will never be as intelligent as a white man [*] and why not let him understand as much NOW."



* Perhaps he forgot to add, "present company excepted."
September 13, 1907 (continued, focusing on its text)


September 13, 1907 (continued, showing page two)

According to Steve Lackmeyer's article at OkcHistory.com,

"Lawmakers made segregation their first order of business when they convened at Guthrie's City Hall from December 2, 1907 to May 26, 1908. Senate Bill 1 went through the overwhelmingly Democratic body, 37-2 in the Senate, 95-10 in the House showing that the issue was bipartisan. The law required separate facilities for blacks in public transportation, public education and other public places and situations. In response riots erupted in Taft and other black communities."

Additionally, this OHS article adds detail about the bill:
The bill provided that "every railway company, urban or suburban car company, street car or interurban car or railway company . . . shall provide separate coaches or compartments as hereinafter provided for the accommodation of the white and negro races, which separate coaches or cars shall be equal in all points of comfort and convenience." Another section of the legislation similarly stated that each railroad depot must have separate, adequately signed waiting rooms for each race. The penalty for disobeying ranged from one hundred to one thousand dollars for any company failing to provide separate facilities and from five to twenty-five dollars for any individual who, after being warned by the conductor, occupied any coach or compartment (including waiting rooms) not designated for his/her race. The bill authorized railroad officials to refuse service or eject violators. All fines were to go to the common school fund.
December 19, 1907
Locally, the Daily Oklahoman reported on December 25, 1907, that the city's principal trolley line, the Oklahoma Railway Company, was readying its compliance with the new law, and a January 7, 1908, article reported that local railroad companies were doing the same. The article's choice of words for Santa Fe's compliance (it was then in the process of constructing a new passenger terminal) was interesting:
The Santa fe will temporarily use the small room to the west of the baggage department, now a smoking room, for the negroes, while the regular waiting rooms will be the exclusive apartments for white patrons. Later, it is believed, a more pretentious waiting room will be provided for the dusky ones.
Black groups were determined to fight the laws through the courts, as reported in this January 10, 1908, article which reported that Muskogee Negroes had begun to raise a legal fund to fight the law.

Most whites, though, thought that the existing laws had not gone far enough. This January 26, 1908, article reported that Senate sentiment existed to make separate rooms for those waiting to pay telephone bills at their local telphone companies, provided that cities have a population of at least 1,000.

Black resistance to being forced to sit in particular cars or parts of heavy rail and street cars led to controversy, sometimes violence, as shown at the right.
"It looks like all the negroes are carrying revolvers," said the conductor" and there appears to be an organized effort to resist the enforcement of the separate coach law."
February 4, 1908

The Daily Oklahoman, however, expressed its delight at the Legislature's adoption of Jim Crow laws in this front page cartoon.

Early litigation attempts by blacks were not successful as shown in this February 16, 1908, article.

And, all the while, whites pressed on to expand the scope of Jim Crow laws to encompass interracial marriage and separate libraries.

Jim Crow was on a roll, losing no battles, only gaining ground.

What could possibly be left?

That would be the cities. Locally, that would be the adoption of Oklahoma City's first Jim Crow laws.

February 16, 1908

4. OKLAHOMA CITY'S FIRST JIM CROW LAWS.
Oklahoma City's first Jim Crow ordinances were adopted in 1916 and covered residences, churches, schools, theaters, dance and/or assembly halls. "Blocks" were defined as white or black depending on whether 75% of buildings were used by whites or "coloreds." The article below reports the text of the city's first two Jim Crow ordinances.
March 29, 1916
Despite statements in the above article that little opposition existed to these ordinances, the next day the Daily Oklahoman's reporting was quite different. The article reported that, "Twenty negroes ministers, doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers, editors and merchants * * * expressed their disapproval in no uncertain terms. For an hour the commission meeting place rang with 'colored oratory.'" The full text of the article appears below.
March 30, 1916
An April 8, 1916, Daily Oklahoman article reported on another city commissioners meeting a week later at which "More than a hundred negroes were on hand." Negro lawyer William Harrison addressed the commissioners after which other black citizens were apparently prepared to speak. However, Mayor Edward Overholser cut off discussion, he indicating that "the negro attorney had fully covered the field." Some sentiment was expressed about submitting the ordinances to a popular vote; instead, the ordinances were referred to the city's municipal counselors to assess constitutionality.

In the meantime, similar ordinances were in litigation and a Louisville case had reached the United States Supreme Court, as reported in an April 11, 1916, article. Apparently the city's lawyers found no constitutional impediments in the city's ordinances since an August 6, 1916, article reported that Tom Green, a Negro butcher for Morris & Company, had been arrested for violation of the residential ordiance by moving into a house at 122 South Clegern Avenue.

In February 1917, a similar Louisville ordinace was before the United States Supreme Court and it was declared to be unconstitutional. In response to that decision Oklahoma City's ordinances were modified in 1918. See Daily Oklahoman articles on July 31, 1918 and August 1, 1918. According to the former article, the revised ordinance had a "safe-guarding clause" which permitted variance from the ordinance if 75% of those already living there consented to the same a feature which was thought to render the ordinance constitutional, the article said.

However, an October 4, 1918, article reads quite differently. The article reported that "a delegation of property owners headed by V.S. Baughman, vice-president of the Oklahoma City Real Estate Exchange, appeared before the mayor and city commissioners to make their plea that the city enforce the the August ordinance. The article first notes that the ordinance was adopted at the instigation of the real estate exhange, and then says:
Baughman asserted that "curb-stone" real estate men are selling property in strictly white neighborhoods to negroes with the result that the property in these localities has depreciated in value to the extent of 30 or 40 percent.

Mayor Overholser informed Baughman and the other members of the delegation that it was at the request of the real estate men that the ordinance was passed. The mayor said that when the measure was adopted Byron D. Shear, city attorney, advised that in his opinion the ordinance, if it was tested in the courts, would be found to be unconstitutional.
* * *
The mayor declared that if the delegation desired to make a test case that the legal machinery of the city would co-operate in seeing that the ordinance is enforced.
* * *
The speaker declared that if the ordinance is found to be unconstitutional, that it will be three or four years before the United States supreme court would pass on the issue and that the owners of property would have relief during that period of time.
An October 10, 1918, article shows that enforcement then occurred quickly the report concerned a trial scheduled to be held in municipal court days later for violation of city ordinance 2027, section 2. An October 22, 1918, article reported that a local group, consisting of members of the county council of defense, a judge, Roscoe Dunjee, and others would present a petition to the mayor and city commissioners urging repeal of the ordinace and the establishment of a board of mediation consisting of three whites and three blacks, their powers to be "those of recommendation and persuasion." That effort must have been unsuccessful since a May 14, 1919, article reported another attempt at enforcement.

More, a May 30, 1919, article carried this report about the city holding the building of a black hospital hostage until blacks complied with the Jim Crow ordinance:
Hope for a $50,000 negro hospital was given a setback yesterday when the city commissioners voted to take no action so long as negro citizens of Oklahoma City attack the segregation ordinance. The negroes' petition will remain in committee of the whole indefinitely if the suit is not withdrawn.

The petition asking for the hospital with a negro staff, as well as better sanitation; more water, sewage and lighting; a negro health inspector and the improvement of Riverside park, was filed with the city almost simultaneously with the beginning of a suit in federal court on the segregation ordinance.

"So long as they attack our city laws and ordinances, we are not very much for them, said Mayor Walton. "If they will all move into a segregated district, I would be willing for them to have everything the whites have," said Mark Kesler, commissioner of public safety.

5. OKLAHOMA CITY'S SECOND JIM CROW LAWS.
Something may have happened between 1919 and 1927 that I've not yet figured out, but I will and then will update this section whether the city's 1916-1918 ordiances were set aside by legal challenge or were simply amended or left as is but remained in force, I'm not presently certain. (The February 14, 1929, article which involved the location of a black undertaker's business was probably not related to the Jim Crow ordinance see In re Dawson, a 1928 decision which related to other types of zoning issues.) At the end of a May 2, 1933, article, the Daily Oklahoman article reads, "Officials recalled the city passed an ordinance in the Walton administration providing that when 75 percent of a block was occupied by one race, no individual of the other could move in. It was knocked out by the United States supreme court." However, so far, I've located no case or other information that the same ever occurred. I'm still looking.

This section begins with a March 15, 1927 report on a U.S. Supreme Court decision on New Orleans' ordiances similar to Oklahoma City's. Much earlier, in 1917, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Louisville case that such ordinances were unconstitutional and the New Orleans decision confirmed the court's position in that regard. As mentioned previously, an October 4, 1918, article clearly indicates that the city government knew that the city's Jim Crow ordinances were probably unconstitutional. The New Orleans decision removed any shadow of the smallest possible lingering doubt about that.

In any event, something I don't presently know what obviously happened in or by the spring 1933 to prompt then-Governor William H. (Alfalfa Bill) Murray to become involved. Perhaps you recall the statements attributed to Murray when he was president of the Constitutional Convention regarding Negroes. Whatever might be said about him, Murray is certainly an interesting read in Oklahoma history despite the fact that he was plainly a racist through and through.
Alfalfa Bill Murray
Murray used one of his favorite tools, martial law, to impose by his sole authority a defined area that would be black with everything else being white, unless and until Oklahoma City replaced his definition with one of its own which directly led to Oklahoma City's 2nd set of Jim Crow ordinances. The Governor, plainly a racist himself, may have nonetheless wanted to avert a race riot akin to the 1921 Tulsa riot which has been described as perhaps the costliest incident of racial violence in American history but see the 1965 Watts, Califoria, riot.

Note: This OHS Article which speaks to Murray's use of martial law and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Allen v. Oklahoma City (below) is incorrect. Murray declared martial law in 1933, not 1935, and the Allen case related to the city's ordinance, not Murray's use of martial law.

Murray never dispatched troups to enforce his order. By my reckoning the area which he marked off as the black residential zone is shown in the map below, based upon information contained in the Daily Oklahoman's May 2, 1933, article.
Response to the Governor's action was mixed. The May 2, 1933, article mentioned above reported as follows:
Quiet and apparent satisfaction with the governor's action ruled the east side of the city Monday night, after Governor Murray, by military order, had established a dividing line between white and Negro areas in ward two.

Technical martial law wa provided in a "buffer zone" between the two districts, but no troops will be [called?] in unless some overt act is committed, said Charles F. Barrett, adjutant general. Decree was issued to prevent "riots, mob violence and bloodshed," the governor said.

Threatened clash between the two races Friday night, when a Negro family moved into an all-white block, was the immediate reason for the governor's action. Friction between whites and Negroes on the east side has been growing increasingly tense for three years, however.
* * *
Roscoe Dunjee, editor of the Black Dispatch, said that he expected no immediate trouble from Governor Murray's edict, but tht suit might be filed in federal court later to test the [validity?] of the division. Some of the Negroes are torn up about it," he said. "They can't help but resent such an effort to turn part of the city into a ghetto."

Dunjee declared that the Negroes [not readable] contemplated a disturbance Friday night, and that they were eager for a peaceful settlement of the problem. White persons may have attempted to create a bad feeling after the Negro family moved into the white district, however, he said.
* * *
Governor Murray declared he hoped the city council would "take immediate steps to define an equitable, permanent section so that neither race shall trespass on the rights or properties of the other." The city council has the power to do this but I don't think they will," he said. "They're afraid they'll lose a vote. But if they handle it fairly, they wont."

He complimented Negroes who conferred with him, and said they appeared fair and willing to make concessions.

Dunjee pointed out that no Negroes had been delegated by any of their race to agree on segregation lines.
* * *
"It isn't a question of the council's being afraid," said W.A. Henderson, ward two councilman, "but of what authority the council has."

Officials recalled the city passed an ordinance in the Walton administration providing that when 75 percent of a block was occupied by one race, no individual of the other could move in. It was knocked out by the United States supreme court.
As mentioned at the beginning of this section, I've located no United States Supreme Court, or other court, decision striking down the 1916-1918 ordinances. I'm not saying that it didn't happen; I am saying that I haven't found such a case as yet and that I have doubt that such a case actually existed.

A May 23, 1933, article reported that an ordinance to "settle differences between the white and Negro residents" was about to be submitted to the city council:
Request of Governor Murray that the city council pass an ordinance defining a zone on the east side for Negroes, in order to settle differences between the white and negro residents there, will be submitted to the city council Tuesday by Mayor Blinn.

Declaring that the majority of both races wanted to live peaceably, the governor said there were a few extremists on both sides and expressed the belief the council could prevent any trouble by fixing a Negro zone in blocks where they already constitute a majority of residents. He also suggested that additional territory be put into the zone to give the Negro population room for expansion.
* * *
"The governor will be glad to assist the city council in the enforcement of such a zoning ordinance," Murray said."
Judging by his precipitous act to declare martial law and form a black zone himself, that last statement is surely an understatement. By July, no ordinance had been adopted. A July 16, 1933, article reported that,
Both Negroes and whites will take part in the planning commission's final hearing Wednesday on the race zoning question.
* * *
A plan providing that no member of one race shall use residential property in any block occupied by a majority of the other is before the commission.

Negroes held a meeting Saturday at 1824 East Fourth street to determine the course they will follow at the commission's hearing. The meeting developed the fact that some representative Negroes are opposed to any kind of race zoning, while others are agreeable to the plan before the commission.
Finally, at a Saturday meeting on September 23, 1933, an ordinance was adopted, as reported in a September 24 article:
Oklahoma City's race zoning ordinance was passed with an emergency clause by the city council Saturday. The vote was unanamous.

There was more than an our of debate, with Phil Daughterty, assistant county attorney and president of the East Side Civic club, leading the discussion in favor of the measure, and Roscoe Dunjee, Negro editor, speaking eloquently against it. Several Negro preachers also opposed the ordinance.

The measure provides that no member of one race may move into a block, more than 50 percent of which is occuped by the other. An exception is made to permit Negroes employed by white persons to live on the premises.

Some ill feeling developed during a firey speech by C.R. "Sappy" Reeves, who favored adoption of the ordinance. Reeves was reprimanded by Mayor Blinn.
As Governor Murray opined above, space for expansion would be needed, and an April 1, 1934, article discussed that and gave some statistics:
Concentration of approximately 92 percent of Oklahoma City's Negro population in 112 city blocks in a practically contiguous arrangement places in the hands of the city a problem of determining suitable areas for future expansion of the racial group.

That was one of the significant findings announced Saturday in the report of Tom F. Weiss, city planning commission secretary, who made public results of an investigation by the commission's racial occupancy committee conducted during the last two months.
* * *
Based on the 1930 census enumatering 14,662 Negroes, the figure represents 8 percent of the city's population, the report revealed, compared with 9 percent in 1920. County registration records for 1932 showed 4,100 Negroes registered compared with 75,900 white voters.

Of the 4,100, 3,600 Negro voters reside in ward 2 and 89 percent of them are concentrated in four preceincts. An approximate number of 12,500 Negroes reside in ward 2, the report estimated, a figure representing 92 percent of the total Negro population.

In the survey area of an area east of Walnut avenue and north of the Rock Island right of way, it was shown that the total number of blocks comprised of more than 51 percent Negro is 97. There are 15 blocks adjacent to the 97 in which the negro residential percentage is from 20 to 40 percent.

Buildings occupied by Negroes in the 97 blocks total 2,038, while those occupied by white residents total 89.

in addition to the ward 2 district, there is a group of 18 blocks between West Reno and California avenues between Clegern and McKlinley avenues occupied by more Negroes than whites.
* * *
Concentration of Negro dwellings showed one building to one and one-half 25-foot lot, compared to one building for two such lots in the white areas. Future expansion of Negroes in the 97 blocks was limited to 1,000 persons.
So, the city government was concerned with two levels of issues: Expansion and enforcement. As it developed, both problems would be solved but not by the city.

The problems would be solved in the courts.

Two 1934 Daily Oklahoman articles evidence that enforcement of the 1933 ordiance was commenced by the city: A July 7 article reported on the arrest of three blacks allegedly in violation of the ordinance, apparenly the 1st arrests made under the new law. "According to police the Negroes had moved into the restricted district during the last few months," the article said. A July 21 article reported that three whites and four blacks were arrested for rentals in white areas.

So, if resolution was to be found in the courts, which courts?

An August 8, 1934, article indicated that suit had been filed in federal court on the residence-rental city charges. The properies involved were located at 938 Northeast 21st Street, 300 Northwest 23rd Street, and 319 Northwest 5th Street. An August 14 article said that the federal judge would rule in the matter on that day. The ruling occurred in October, adverse to the petitioners. An August 8, 1935, article gives the background for the 10th United States Circuit Court of Appeals decision reported on that day:
The federal court fight against enforcement of the city's racial segregation ordinance has sustained another setbalk, this time at the hands of Robert E. Lewis, judge of the tenth federal circuit court of appeals * * *. Judge Lewis, in Denver, affirmed a rulign by Edgar S. Vaught, federal district judge, who held last October that injunctive action was not the proper remedy to be sought in federal court.
While the federal case was pending, and after, enforcement of the ordinance appears to have intensified. A November 17, 1935, article reported that 14 white and 131 black familes had been forceably moved from their respective residences by the city in ordinance enforcement activity.

Legal challenge to the ordinance had failed in federal court for procedural reasons. The city was intensifying its enforcement activity. State courts seemed predisposed to rulings favoring city government's Jim Crow residential ordinances.

Where to turn? Blacks (and opposing whites) were left with a possible appeal to the United States Supreme Court or by seeing through resolution of cases then pending before the Oklahoma Supreme Court. It has been reported that no "southern" state Supreme Court had willingly followed United States Supreme Court mandates of cases like Louisville and New Orleans in state court litigation, and Oklahoma seemed to fall within this "Southern" definition. Were I a black person living in 1935, I would not likely have been optimistic concerning the outcome of such cases in 1935.

Therein, I would have been mistaken.

In 1935, four cases were pending before the Oklahoma Supreme Court which involved constitional challenge to Oklahoma City Ordinance No. 4524, the 1933 ordinance. One was Ex Parte Lee. W.D. Lee had been fined $10 for violation of the segregation ordinance and, not paying, he was taken into custody and imprisoned. His action was an application for a writ of habeas corpus. The same fact pattern and requested relief was presented in Ex parte Hawkins. The third case, Scott v. Watt, was an injunction action against the chief of police to prevent enforcement of the ordinance. The forth case, Allen v. Oklahoma City, also an injunction action, effectively decided them all.

Allen v. Oklahoma City was the case chosen by the Supreme Court to express the basis for its rulings not only in the Allen case but the other three cases, as well. Allen recited the pertinent facts:
The plaintiff below, plaintiff in error, sought by this action injunctive relief to prevent enforcement of ordinance No. 4524, city of Oklahoma City, commonly known as the "Segregation Ordinance."

Under the provisions of section 1 of the ordinance it is unlawful for any white person to occupy, as a residence, any house or building located in a block wherein a majority of the lots used as residences are occupied by Negroes. Under the provisions of section 2, it is unlawful for any Negro to occupy as a residence any house or building located in a block wherein a majority of the lots used as residences are occupied by white persons. Section 11 provides the penalty and specifies that each day's continued occupation as prohibited shall constitute a separate offense.
In a lengthy opinion which reviewed United States Supreme Court decisions as well as some of its own, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 8-0 (one justice not participating) that Oklahoma City's Jim Crow ordinance was unconstitutional. The kernel of the court's ruling appeared at the end of the case:
It thus appears that validity of the ordinance in question is no longer debatable. A federal question is here involved and the highest federal court has repeatedly declined to sustain not only similar ordinances, but as well an ordinance employing identical language, despite contentions based upon similarity to valid provisions for separate schools and separate public conveyances, despite attempts to justify such ordinances under a necessary exercise of the police power and despite support adduced from the underlying principle of zoning ordinances.

The very basis upon which the enactment was predicated (according to testimony), police power, which is the foundation of valid zoning ordinances, was by the Supreme Court stricken and cast aside as a valid supporting principle of the segregation ordinance.

In effect, if not in purpose, that which the city authorities sought to do, expressed in the vernacular, was to select from the discards an ordinance and attempt to find support for it by an appeal to racial prejudice. The respondent city's brief in the companion cases reads:
"The testimony of the witness Dunjee shows the character of this case. It is a concerted effort of certain misguided and misinformed philanthropists to get upon the back of Buchanan v. Warley and ride that case to the destruction of the principles of Plessy v. Ferguson and the Berea College Case. * * *"
The latter cases being those sustaining provision for separate railway accommodations and separate schools. 163 U.S. 537, 41 L. Ed. 256, 16 S. Ct. 1138, and 29 S.C. 33. But it must be remembered that neither the beliefs, desires, hopes, faith, racial ambitions, nor economic theories of either philanthropists, witnesses, litigants, lawyers, or judges have any place in a judicial decision except when and if these mental or emotional expressions are written into the law, and facts are presented to the judicial tribunal which require construction and application of that law. Nor can a court of justice properly determine cases by their character. The end to be ever sought by courts is a determination of rights and liberties under law, and when that goal is reached, the result must be declared and enforced though the heavens fall.
What a closer! The end to be ever sought by courts is a determination of rights and liberties under law, and when that goal is reached, the result must be declared and enforced though the heavens fall. And, so it was that Oklahoma City's 1933 ordinance, and effectively its 1916-18 predecessor, both of which had declared who could live where, were at long last given the blade of color-blind justice.

6. THE AFTERMATH OF OKLAHOMA CITY'S JIM CROW ORDINANCES.

How would that color-blind statement by the Oklahoma Supreme Court be received by the city and its inhabitants?

The sky did not open and the heavens did not fall. No, white men would not stop trying to be creative (see this September 2, 1936, article)) to come up with means to avoid the ruling such as by racial covenants in platted property preventing the lots from being conveyed to black citizens and some racial violence would occur (see this September 2, 1936, article). But, in the main, life went on without the end of days which had been feared by many.

A November 27, 1935, article was captioned, "Ruling Brings Gloomy View." The article said:
City officials were pessimistic Tuesday over the state supreme court's action voiding the racial segregation ordinance, predicting that bitterness will result from the decision.

Meanwhile, Roscoe Dun[j]ee, Negro leader and publisher, issued a statement directed toward amicable relations between Negroes and white persons.

"Of course, Negroes feel they have been justified in their battle against an unconstitutional ordinance," said Dun[j]ee. "However, there will be no sudden action by Negroes seeking to take advantage of a decision which favored them.

The only rights we shall claim under the decision will be those permitting us to expand gradually and naturally. The decision marks a growing liberality in the south. We consider it significant that a southern court shoudl find in our favor without forcing us to seek federal relief."
While the 1935 decision in Allen v. Oklahoma City doubtless provided a cause for celebration in the black community, it was, of course, just a step, even if a hugely important one.

But, to be sure, the decision had no impact whatever upon the state's Jim Crow laws. Schools would continue to be segregated on the separate but equal principle until the United States Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 followed by the US District Court's 1969 decision in Dowell v. Oklahoma City Public Schools, a marathon case which visited the United States Supreme Court on two occasions, in 1969 and in 1991. Racial integration of public accommodations would not occur until the Oklahoma City civil rights marches from 1959 through the early 1960s and further progress was made by reason of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 by reason of which places like Springlake Amusement Park would be required to open their doors to people of all races. It would not be until 1967 that the state's miscegenation (interacial marriage) statutes would be declared unconstituional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in Dick v. Reaves.

Numerous other steps could be listed but the above are sufficient to illustrate that the path to remove all Jim Crow laws would be a long one. More importanly, changed attitudes of people, black and white, Native American, Mexican American and Asian American would require new generations to be born and be reared in a different environment than their ancestors. I think, certainly hope, that huge strides have been made in getting there. To the extent that progress is still needed, it will occur. If Roscoe Dunjee lived to see many accomplishments during his lifetime, so will I and so will we all.

October 5, 1913


For additional reading see Steve Lackmeyer's "Roscoe Dunjee: Fighter for Equality" at OkcHistory.com, "African Americans" at the OHS Encyclopedia of History and Culture, and, in this vintage Oklahoma City series, The Black Dispatch.
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